Tag Archives: writing

The Ways I Use Poetry

When I was in grade school, I used poetry for entertainment. My grade school had regular book fairs, and one of the first books I bought on my own was The Random House Book of Poetry for Children because, in the first few pages, it had a funny poem about a boy that would take off all his clothing and could never figure out how to put it back on. The book was large and full of various poems. When there wasn’t anything to watch on television, or when I finished some of my homework, I’d sit in my room and read through my book of poetry and try to memorize the poems that were on the pages. As I aged, the appeal of the book of children’s poetry faded, and it was placed into a box and given to Goodwill.

It wasn’t until high school that I started to use poetry again. This time, I used poetry as a form of self-expression, as many teens end up doing. Sometimes I wrote poems and sometimes I wrote song lyrics, but they were always dark and angry and honestly, not very good. I used poetry to help form my self-identity and to work through an extreme level of teenage angst. These works often found themselves on napkins, or on ripped up pieces of paper, or inside of one of my textbooks. The poetry I wrote back then is long gone, which is probably a good thing. If I had to classify the type of use this poetry was, it would fall under the category of misuse.

Bringing Readers Inside the Bedroom

Writing about sex is hard (no pun intended). While there are plenty of writers who have found their niche writing romance novels filled to the brim with sensual scenes, the majority of us do anything to avoid a sex scene. As my book editing professor has mentioned on more than one occasion, readers don’t need to be taken into the bedroom. In other words, describe your lovers ripping each other’s clothes off and passionately kissing, but let the reader’s imaginations fill in the rest.

But what if you don’t want to stop at the bedroom door? How do you write about sex without causing your reader to roll their eyes, skip ahead, or feel completely awkward (mostly for you). For one, understand that metaphors and sex work–up until a certain point, at which you lose readers. In Slate.com’s recent article “The Worst Sex Writing of the Year Features Statisticians, Superheroes, and Brie Cheese,” Amanda Hess gives readers one example of what she deems a “delusional” metaphor from Manil Suri’s The City of Devi:

We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.

I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here, but Hess’ astute observation, “Congratulations–you fucked,” pretty much sums it up. When metaphors are too complex, they seem unrealistic. For most of us, sex doesn’t equate to feeling like a superhero diving through atomic nuclei and causing statisticians to rejoice. Hess also offers other examples of “bad” sex writing.

Three Tips to Beat Writer’s Block

It happens to us all – we’re in the middle of a piece of work and it is just inspired. Everything flows. The words fit perfectly. The idea is seamless and flows like the Nile forming an oasis in a desert of blank pages.

And then the phone rights. Or you get an email alert that snaps you out of the zone. Maybe someone knocks on the door. Whatever happens and then the zone is gone.

Writing all of a sudden becomes like pulling teeth – painful and extraordinarily uninspired. Things on the page that were once beautiful now turn to pure dung and nothing you do seems to redeem the words on the page or match the perfection of what came before.

Pictured: What it feels like to write after you’ve lost the flow.

I do advocate having a set time to write and minimizing interruptions during these writing periods, but that doesn’t mean that an inspired state of mind doesn’t help with the workflow, and when that streak is gone, it can seem impossible to begin to write again.

These three tips help me get back into the flow of writing once I’ve lost it, and hopefully they’ll help you too.

Harper Lee and Introductions

Harper Lee (Credit: PBS.org)
Harper Lee (Credit: PBS.org)

This summer I decidedly drove to Northern California to spend some time with my family and simultaneously tutor my younger sister. Surprisingly, my sister has been excited about studying at home and continues to show eagerness in most of her subjects. When I arrived, my mother handed me an impressive copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a Barnes and Noble hardcover classic edition with olive and violet images pressed into the leather-like texture with silhouettes of Atticus, Scout and Jem. It’s been quite some time since I last read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and it has been a reanimating experience while I annotate and rediscover all the details that make this novel an all-time classic. While I spend my time rejoicing in my revisit of the novel, there is something in this edition that I have never noticed in my prior experience. Before the first chapter begins, there is a Foreword which states:

Please spare Mockingbird an Introduction. As a reader I loathe Introductions. To novels, I associate Introductions with long-gone authors and works that are being brought back into prints after decades of interment. Although Mockingbird will be 35 this year, it has never been out of print and I am still alive, although very quiet. Introductions inhibit pleasure, they kill the joy of anticipation, they frustrate curiosity. They only good thing about introductions is that in some cases they delay the dose to come. Mockingbird still says what it has to say; it has managed to survive the years without preamble.

Harper Lee

12 February 1993

MFA Programs: Are They Worth It?

So you want to be a writer. You have graduated from high school and college with a few creative writing workshops under your belt and produced a few short pieces you’re proud of. You think, if I could just find the time or had people to read my work, I think I could do this. I could be the voice of my generation.

(Credit: Huffington Post)
(Credit: Huffington Post)

You still need to learn a few tricks. And you just know that if you jump straight into a full-time job that you’ll never get around to writing that novel. Life will happen. You’ll head straight for the fridge and then your bed after a long shift instead of opening up a blank page and writing.

This is a valid concern. If I wasn’t in grad school right now (albeit for publishing and not creative writing), I don’t know where I’d find the time to write. Or rather I do know where I’d find the time, but that notion is scary because it requires dedication and commitment. It requires long nights and early mornings typing away on your computer rather than going out for drinks with friends or binging on Netflix.

You have to find your own motivation rather than being motivated by your fellow students or professors. Being able to find your own motivation isn’t bad. It’s good. And certainly after finishing an MFA program, it’s a skill you will need to develop, but it can be hard to motivate yourself when you’re still figuring things out. When your own writing style isn’t fully-formed. Or when you haven’t found that story inside of you yet that is just dying to get out.

But it’s important to be realistic about MFA programs and to consider your options before jumping straight in.

Traveling This Summer? Keep a Journal!

In the summer of 2012 I traveled to China. It was a great experience, and I was super busy all the time. I never found time to write or keep a journal, but my roommate for the trip did. I’m fairly sad that I didn’t set aside the time to do the same thing.

What really impressed me about her journal was that it had writing prompts for her to respond to for each day she was gone. Her friends and family had gotten together and had come up with the writing prompts for her. They then wrote the prompts within a notebook and told her to not look ahead and to just fill in the page for the day’s writing prompt.

I did have fun taking photos, at least. My group was super annoyed that I took so long, but hell, they turned out awesome.
I did have fun taking photos, at least. My group was super annoyed that I took so long, but hell, they turned out awesome.

Besides being a totally awesome gift idea for friends or family that are traveling abroad, this is also a great tool for a writer. I have my memories (and a crap ton of pictures on my Facebook) of the trip, but I don’t have my emotional responses or thoughts documented from my time over there.

AWP 2014: Writing Unsympathetic Characters

Last week, I attended AWP in Seattle with other students in my program and fellow contributor, Tiffany Shelton. For those of you who haven’t heard of AWP, it’s a conference and bookfair held in a different city each year and hosted by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. Both AWP and Write to Publish took place in February, and both conferences have set me on a roll. Recently, I’ve been writing anywhere from five hundred to a thousand words or more a night—and because I just told you, reader, I feel a certain obligation to keep up this stamina.

Because I’ve already written about how inspiring writing conferences can be, I won’t linger on the subject too long. Just go to one, if you can. They’re terrifying and uplifting; you leave feeling you have the permission to write, to struggle, and to succeed. And they make you realize that “success” doesn’t look the same for every writer—and that’s okay.

At AWP, I went to several panels, but this post will focus on a panel titled “I’m Just Not That Into You: Unsympathetic Characters in Fiction.” Author Irinia Reyn moderated the panel, which consisted of authors Hannah Tinti, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Maud Newton, and agent Ryan Harbage.

I attended this panel, because as both a reader and writer I have come to the realization that I am drawn to characters who others may deem unsympathetic. Irinia began by asking the panelists what they mean when they say a character is unsympathetic. Responses varied from “They appeal to our dark side” to “They are the characters I want to read about.” One panelist—and this stuck with me—said that sometimes unsympathetic characters are just people “put in a difficult situation who have to make a controversial choice.” Are unsympathetic characters the same as unlikeable characters? No. That was the response from the majority of the panelists. There’s no writer’s handbook that says your readers must like character a, b, and c. As one panelist said, “It’s good when someone has a reaction.”

The Tumblr Post that Started a Debate on Race and Writing

Normally, I’m not one to start an online debate with another blog, but while scrolling through Tumblr a few days ago, I came across this post.

(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)
(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)

I immediately shared the post with the other contributors here at the blog, and we, along with many other Tumblr users, had a wide range of thoughts regarding this piece of advice.

(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)
(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)

Before I begin, I think it’s only fair to say that there were also many Tumblr users who shared their support of The Writers Helpers, the Tumblr blog which handed out this advice. According to these users, the account admins were not being racist, but simply honest.

(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)
(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)

In case you were wondering, I fundamentally disagree with the original advice offered by The Writers Helpers. Do I think that the admins of this blog (or “S,” the specific admin who responded to the question) are racist? No. I do not. However, the statement—the advice itself—advises writers to treat their own characters’ races as unequal.

My Brain got Stuck in a Rhyming Loop

When it comes to creative projects at school, my go-to is poetry. I had a big creative project due in one of my classes this past week, and I decided, since it was for Arthurian Romance, to imitate the Medieval French style of poetry. For a week solid, I was spending my nights creating plot and writing in rhyming couplets.

Let me tell you about rhyming couplets.

Door-hinge? I guess that rhymes with orange. Try working that into a poem organically.
Door-hinge? I guess that rhymes with orange. Try working that into a poem organically.

At first, it really isn’t that easy to do. I tend to use a rhyming dictionary when I start out, because my brain isn’t in rhyming mode yet. For the first few days working on an epic, 15 page poem written in eight syllable rhyming couplets, the rhyming dictionary is a godsend. I also use an on-line thesaurus to find words of varying syllables so I can force my thoughts into the eight syllable mold. A thesaurus is also useful in finding words that have the right concept behind them and easy rhymes – for example, the word orange is a jerk when it comes to rhyming, but using a thesaurus gives me all kinds of other options to that dreaded word – warm, flame, gold, etc., which are all much easier to rhyme with.

As time passes, however, these tools fade as the brain starts thinking in rhyme. I’m not kidding – on the third day of working with my project until the day it was due, my brain was rhyming. And so the downside of rhyming started to kick in.

Writing Goals: Poetry Addition

April was National Poetry Month. So, of course, on my Facebook page, I posted a poem or two a day. And, inspired by all the poetry I was posting, I tried to write more poems than I usually do.

Now that April’s over, I want to continue pushing myself to write poetry. I’ve written in the past how deadlines work really well for me when it comes to writing, but how arbitrary ones, not attached to a literary journal’s deadline, kinda never seem to have the same effect on my writing.

My new goal is to write two poems a week. Is that doable? Maybe. I’m older and more mature now, so maybe I’ll be able to hold myself to my writing goals. But there are a few other tricks I’m using to motivate myself to keep my writing goals.

First and foremost, I’m telling all of you about my goal. When other people, like my co-blogger Melanie, know about my goals and can ask me about them, I tend to do better at holding myself accountable for my goals. So I’ve told her, and you, that I plan on writing two poems a week and now there’s an expectation that I will be writing two poems a week.